Zimbardo’s Evil Equals Power

The acclaimed author of “The Lucifer Effect”, Professor Philip Zimbardo has defined Evil as the exercise of power to intentionally harm people psychologically, to hurt people physically, to destroy people mortally or ideas, to commit crimes against humanity. He emphasized the term “exercise of power” ergo evil to some extent equalised to power.

When attempting to justify the atrocities of the Abu Gharib cases, Zimbardo posits that those guards were not evil by nature but they have committed extreme abuses because of the prison setting where the guards were granted power unlimited.

Framework of Human Transformation to Evilness

Zimbardo proposed a framework of analysis on evil behavior by referring to how psychologists understand the transformation of human behavior. A dynamic interplay of

1- Dispositional – Nature of the individuals as foundation of study – Bad Apples
2- Situational – External or environmental influence (Costume and other physical existence of the setting) – Bad Barrel
3- Systemic – Broad influences: political, economic, cultural, legal power (Abstract social interactions that organise behavior) The Bad Barrel Makers

He summarized this framework as;

“You wanna change the person? You’ve gotta change the situation. You wanna change the situation? You’ve gotta know where the POWER is in the system”

Reading Hitler

Does Hitler Ever Smile?

Hitler is one of the most intriguing figures of the 20th Century. More often than not,  throughout history, the authoritarian leader is viewed as an evil man.


Setting diabolical factors aside, I have always been curious on his invincibility throughout his reign as the Third Reich. When I delved into “Hitler’s Private Library: The Books that Shaped His Life” by Timothy W. Ryback, I discovered that prior to Hitler’s involvement with politics, he was  somewhat a different man. Surprisingly, altruism had used to be one of his inner traits.

Max Amann, the company sargeant, remembered Hitler as a decidedly odd but notably selfless man. Amann recalls that when he discovered a surplus in the company budget and offered it to Hitler because the Austrian appeared to have so little money, Hitler thanked Amann and suggested he give it to someone more needy. Similarly, when Amann recommended him for a promotion, Corporal Hitler declined. He said he commanded more respect without an officer’s stripes. He appeared to be selfless in the extreme. “Even if I came in at three in the morning there were always a few men on duty,” Amann recalled. “When I said, ‘Messenger,’ no one moved, only Hitler jumped up. When I said, ‘You again!’ he said, ‘Let the others sleep. It doesn’t matter to me.’ “

So how can a man who used to have a heart of gold become cold as stone causing the death of millions during the World War II? I believe that imbued with a dark childhood past, Hitler already had within him the rage and vengeance that was yet to be awakened before meeting his mentor Dietrich Eckhart in 1919. Ryback asserted that “Eckhart shaped the soft clay of Hitler’s emotional and intellectual world” and “Most significantly, of course,  Eckhart scripted Hitler’s role as histroy’s most infamous anti-semite“.

According to Ryback, Hitler’s book collection included a vast number of them carrying anti-semitic themes such as Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, Henry Ford’s The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem and also works of  Martin Luther and Emile Zola. Obviously, with the guidance of Eckhart, Hitler had also further consolidated his resentment towards the Jews through his readings.

Nevertheless, Hitler’s scope of readings were not limited to political writings. In fact , about sixteen thousand of his books actually constituted genres of philosophy, history, poetry, novels and other canons of artistic works. The dictator admired Shakespeare and was even versed in the Bible.

Ryder shared that German philosopher Walter Benjamin  claimed once  that one can have a picture of what kind of person a man is, based on the books that he reads. As in the context of Hitler, the amalgamation of books that he owns may confuse a profiler due to the juxtaposition of artistic and provocative books on his bookshelves.

But if one were to look a little closer, he will notice that all of those books are within the scope of humanities where it enlightens the reader more about human beings and their nature.

I believe that Hitler understood the workings of man and that was why he was able to control his people in totality despite of his utter brutality.

Think Critically

A recap from Farish Noor’s What Your Teacher Didn’t Tell You.

To paraphrase the great Indian scholar-statesman S. Radhakerishnan, the essence of education lies in the freeing and challenging of the human mind, but this is not a labour that necessary has an appropriate avenue for it. One does not think better in a library or on a campus, and one is not smarter simply because one reads as many books as one can get one’s hands on. Critical thinking requires honest and courageous engagement, and a conscious will to break from convention, to think outside the the safe confines of the familiar, to go beyond habit and routine, and dare to question.”

Writing to The Bones

Last month, I came across a light reading book entitled Writing to The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg. One of her tips was to write without thinking. What she meant by that was to just pour out everything on paper without bothering about  the grammar, the beauty of the sentences nor the logic of it. It doesn’t matter if you are writing a poem, novel or article. Just write. Just do it. Go!

The first person who taught me this tip was Atuk. Those days I used to spend  my semester breaks at his offices in Titiwangsa and Gombak. I had the opportunity to  learn a lot of things pertaining to writing and publishing from the veteran writer. He would give me a few books on a particular subject and assign me to submit an article within a few days. I almost freaked out when he gave me my first task. I was in fear of not being able to write according to his critical expectations. Nevertheless, atuk convinced me to just write what I felt and leave the rest to my stream of thoughts.

Writing is like running or in my personal experience, dancing. When you learn how to dance, you don’t think whether your movements are right or not. The music is put on and you just sway, go with the flow. Along the way you will develope your kinesthetic intelligence. Personally I find that both writing and dancing sets me free. It lets me learn more about myself and understand my being. In fact, music and choreography taught me how to comprehend the workings of the world; of the reality and hyperreality. Now I’m all engrossed with the things I have never known before in Humanities.

For a person to be a very good writer he needs to hone his skills by writing as often as he could. Goldberg works best with a pen and a notebook. She asserts that the feeling of that pen and paper in a writer’s hands gives her the thrill to write. I work better by slamming my nimble fingers on the keyboard narrating my stories in softcopies for future reading.

When you write for different purposes, you tend to get lost in expression. Goldberg taught me that actually you are never lost but in fact you have discovered a new realm that is yet to be deciphered.

The Israel-Palestine Deadlock

Bee Hive, City Centre – In search of the historical perspective of understanding the Israel and Palestine conflict, I’ve recently bought James L. Gelvin’s new edition of “The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War”. I’ve also googled for some reviews on his book and found some negative criticisms such as “appallingly shallow, shoddy, and slanted“. However, after reading a few chapters, I find that as a historian, Gelvin has attempted to be as objective as possible in assessing the history of both the Israelis and Palestinians in claiming their rights on the Holy Land.

Religious Claims Over Land As The Root of The Conflict

As I have wrote before based on my vague memories on Islamic history, religion is one of the main causes of the prolonged conflict. Gelvin verified this where he posits that the problem actually began with a “dispute over real estate”;

Jewish immigrants and their descendants, guided by the nationalist ideology of Zionism, and the Palestinian Arab inhabitants among whom the Zionists settled both claim an exclusive right to inhabit and control some or all of Palestine

Among all of the disputed areas, Jerusalem is the most important territory as it is considered as a sacred land by the Jews, Muslims and Christians;

For Jews, it is the capital of David and Solomon’s kingdom and the site of the Western (Wailing) Wall, which is the only remaining remnant of the second temple.

For Muslims, it is the site from which Muhammad ascended to heaven on his famous night journey.

For Christians, it is the site of the Passion and Crucifixion.

All of these stories are engraved in their respective sacred scribes; namely the Torah, al-Quran and the Bible.

Gelvin went on further by highlighting how the nationalist movements of the Israelis and Palestinians have fought against each other for the claim of rights on the land, and that religion has been politicized to achieve their aims;

Whereas all sorts of religious and ethnic groups feel sentimental attachment to places, nationalism converts sentiments into politics.

The politicization of religion by Israeli and even Palestinian political parties  could refer to the manipulation of religious beliefs in preserving their own interests for power and wealth. (Note: The disagreement between Hamas and PLO is worth being a case study)

The conflict has been continuous due to religious causes where both the Jews and Palestinians have struggled to exert authority upon the fought territories. Nevertheless, it is truly saddening that in a modern era, the sanctity of humanity is still openly ravaged . Palestinians are oppressed and murdered without mercy by the Israeli armies.

Both supporters of the Israelis and Palestinians from all over the world may keep on sending funds to help the people but will it really end the war and proposterous killings? Do the funds really reach those in need? Is there any long-term solution that would be negotiated by both parties without having to compromise their faiths on the holy land?